Husband and wife co-founders of P&H boutique, Papa and Hetty Boachie-Yiadom, are award-winning entrepreneurs leading the retail space for modern traditional wear in South Africa.
Their recent accolades include being named the Top Performing Business in Vusi Thembekwayo’s MyGrowth Fund Top 40 flagship programme, named the Micro Franchise Top Performing Business by SA Franchise Warehouse, and received the Business Excellence Commitment Award by the annual Global Business Confederation Awards (The Glo-Bc Awards).
We chat to the dynamic duo synonymous with #BlackExcellence to better understand their journey from corporate banking to fashion.
Can you give a brief overview of your upbringing and how it shaped the person you are today?
My Ghanaian parents immigrated to South Africa in 1988, during Apartheid with 3 young children. We were raised in Northern Cape primarily in Kimberly and we were the first African children integrated into the school there. My parents always emphasized academic excellence as my mother is a high school English teacher and my father a high school Math teacher. Subsequently my younger brother has a Masters in Engineering. My sister is a Chartered Accountant and plying her trade in the UK. As the eldest in the family I’ve always had the responsibility to lead as an example. It’s been the heaviest burden but biggest motivator that drove me even when I wanted to give up.
I am an only child. My dad is from Ghana, mom from South Africa. My parents actually met in Russia as they were in exile and studying. That’s where I was born. As a family we also spent time in the UK and Ghana before settling in South Africa just after the fall of apartheid. My parents have always been a strong example for me to pursue excellence as my father completed his PhD in Physics and my mother her Masters in Law.
How did the two of you meet?
Don’t mind Hetty, the true story is she came looking for me. In the first week at varsity my friends had met her, she was also a first-year student, and they told her they are friends with a Ghanaian boy and it piqued her interest as her dad is Ghanaian. She took one look at me and the rest is history!
We met in our first week at university. When I first saw Papa he looked so familiar to me. It was like I’d known him all my life. And we’ve been inseparable since.
How did you end up in corporate banking and what was the experience like?
I studied Actuarial Science at the University of Pretoria University and I finished top of my class in mathematics.
In my last year I read Rich Dad Poor Dad and my thinking changed in terms of what my ultimate goals in life should be. And I’ve seen it to be true that my banker has never asked me for my report card.
Soon after graduating I joined a bank focusing on Credit Risk. My goal was always, take a job for what you can learn and not so much because of what you can earn. A lot of the learnings are applied in our business currently and I was part of the bank leadership by the time I needed to close the chapter on my 10-year banking career.
I studied Political Science at the University of Pretoria. I was then lucky to receive an opportunity after studying to join a Merchant Bank in the research department. It was an extremely tough entry into work commuting from Pretoria to Sandton daily dealing with sexism and racism.
But my parents’ example made me realize the biggest deterrent to prejudice is excellence. By my 5th year I become head of the department and we were doing well. But the enemy of a great life is a good life. I then decided to pursue a great life by becoming a full-time entrepreneur.
What has been your biggest motivation in becoming the successful person/couple you are today?
A few years ago I read the following “in 5 years you will be the same person you are today except for 2 things, the people you spend your time with and the books you read” since then I started reading 20 books every year (7 years running), books like The Slight Edge, 5 Love Languages, 21 Laws on Leadership etc.
We also became very intentional about who we spent our time with and sought out mentors who got us to see past the environment we were trapped in.
I’m very motivated by my family background. My parents are both academics and high achievers. They’ve always taught me to strive for excellence. I am motivated by a desire to leave a legacy that will outlive me.
Did you always see yourself as an entrepreneur?
Definitely not. We are supposed to be corporate animals dominating board rooms somewhere. Disillusionment however from racism and sexism made us think seriously about what the best way was to exert our energies long term.
Currently I don’t like to describe myself as a designer but a business owner. It allows me to focus on working on my business, not inside, in order to ensure my business grows without my involvement. This is the way to grow employment especially for the youth and women.
Yes. I’ve always seen myself as an entrepreneur particularly within the African continent because I am passionate about entrepreneurship and Africa. I believe what I am doing is an extension of who I am.
What is the most exciting thing about your journey thus far?
Something that always excites me is I get to work alongside my best friend. She’s way easier to work with than some of my colourful ex colleagues. But the most exciting thing is seeing the impact we make in the lives of our P&H boutique community. Many of them used to be disappointed so many times by a tailor who ruined their special occasion and they walk into our stores, try on something unique and immediately their face lights up. The impact thereafter?, they love coming back and sending pictures and videos of their special day that they allowed us to play a small part in. It’s humbling.
I feel the same way. The most exciting part of what we do is touching the lives of our P&H family. We actually have a relationship with our customers, and they are more than customers to us. Even though we are available nationwide, it gets difficult to touch every one of them personally, so we inculcate this philosophy with our staff in the stores.
Aside from yourself and your own hard work and perseverance, is there anything or anyone else that you can give credit to for where you are today?
Mentors. When we couldn’t believe in what we were trying to achieve mentors encouraged us. At times this was in physical time they invested in us, but on most occasions, it was in advising on what books to read that would answer the challenges we were experiencing, because books can be your best mentors. 5 years ago, this led us to investing in a social media course. Before then we’d taken the business as a hobby where we had a following of eg. 10 000 followers. Four months after doing the course we applied what we learnt and had a following of 100 000 and got kicked out of our security complex for operating from home, opened our first physical store and haven’t looked back since.
Encouragement and cheerleading from friends and family. They also at times saw the future potential even when it was foggy.
Were there moments when you almost gave up and what got you through them?
Almost every day I’d want to give up. And then I couldn’t find time with a mentor and would then bury myself into another entrepreneur’s book to get some ideas and inspiration to continue for one more day. A lot of ideas didn’t work well in our business, but others made a huge impact. Like our mentor Ian Fuhr’s approach to treating Sorbet customers, from the book Get That Feeling, I had a situation in our new store in Cresta Mall where a lady walked in with a low-end retailer’s plastic bag. I watched the store staff treat her the way Hetty has trained them. By the end this lady was in tears and I asked her “woman, why are you leaking” her response was that we’d treated her with so much dignity and respect and made her feel so beautiful. She was overcome with emotion. And that for us now is what we describe as The P&H Difference and why our family keeps growing.
Not so much giving up but taking on the risk and fear of taking a path different from the norm. The only way to cure fear is through action. So we always moved with fear, but we moved forward.
After our 4th expo, we were still selling imported goods, no one was interested in our things and we wanted to give up. We looked deep and realized the need to connect with what was more authentic to us and started to move into African clothing.
What has been your biggest achievement with P&H boutique to date?
Papa & Hetty
It’s very surreal even to this day but definitely opening in our first mall, Menlyn Mall the Largest mall on the continent. It was JUST so daunting thinking our third store would be in a mall with all these brands we’d grown up revering. Menlyn Mall is a place we used to visit so many times as students and wondered wow, who are these people that own these stores. Imagine if one day we could have a store here and laugh the crazy idea off. Even the week preparing to open we still would think, what if they laugh at us and think, you guys are crazy. This DEFINITELY does not belong here. But we opened the doors and have been humbled by the appreciation and encouragement from our community as they even suggest designs and we then name the designs after them. Some of which have then gone on to be worn by celebrities and ministers etc.
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